Fourteen down, three to go ...
... three BIG weeks left. For a few teams, failing to win this week means failing to maintain relevance over the final two contests of the season (other than getting a looksee at young players and determining overall draft positioning). This includes the Browns, Bills, Dolphins, Buccaneers, Saints, Chargers and Jets. Losses for any one of those clubs equals either outright elimination from the playoff race, or an uphill climb containing more stipulations than one of those extended car warranties that cover anything (except for everything).
Before we dive into the picks below, a few things should be noted. First, my streak of picking at least one score exactly right ended after five glorious weeks. Although, I did say the San Francisco 49ers would beat the Miami Dolphins 26-13. The final was 27-13. And I originally had that score before a last-second change of heart! (I swear!!)
An old rule of thumb comes to mind: Never change your first answer on a Scantron test.
In addition to altering that Dolphins-49ers prediction, I let a colleague (and diehard Bills supporter) change my mind about picking the Rams to win in Buffalo last week. Originally, I had St. Louis taking that game, 16-13. Then I allowed said coworker to lobby me into oblivion. I changed it to Bills over Rams. Of course, St. Louis won, 15-12.
Now that we got that minutiae out of the way, let's delve into some picks. As usual, the dropbox for your musings, arguments and 140-character diatribes is @Harrison_NFL.
Elliot Harrison went 10-6 on his predictions for Week 14, giving him a 110-49-1 record since taking over this space in Week 4. How will he fare in Week 15? His picks are below, with home teams listed second:
The New York Giants do a heckuva job protecting their franchise quarterback. That's why Big Blue has given up the fewest sacks in the league (15) and why Eli Manning has a real opportunity to exploit an exploitable Atlanta Falcons secondary. If Atlanta's pass rush can't get to the quarterback -- which, too often, it hasn't been able to do -- Mike Smith's group will lose for the second consecutive week. Can the New York secondary hold up versus Roddy White and Julio Jones? That's the question. The latter has been quiet as of late, with only two touchdowns and one game of over 75 yards in his last five outings. #NYGvsATL
Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy probably will give Knowshon Moreno 20-plus carries to take advantage of a Baltimore Ravens run defense that allows 129.3 yards per game. Peyton Manning certainly can riddle a defense riddled by injuries this season. Meanwhile, Joe Flacco has been effective at home, but he will be facing a top-five defense this week. Jim Caldwell definitely drew a tough assignment in his first game as Baltimore's offensive coordinator. Give it to Ray Rice, dude; halt that stout Broncos pass rush or your team is done. #DENvsBAL
The Green Bay Packers could win this game 24-17 ... or 45-3. It's tough to decipher which Chicago Bears team will show up. Without Brian Urlacher roaming the middle of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's Cover 2, expect Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb to connect in the soft underbelly of the defense. Matt Forte has never rushed for 100 yards against the Packers. If ever a team needed a 100-yard game from a back, this is it. Keep Jay Cutler upright and the defense honest, right? Too bad Forte averages less than 50 rushing yards per game in his career versus Green Bay. #GBvsCHI
As of publishing, Robert Griffin III's status remains a mystery. But my crystal ball says the Cleveland Browns move to 6-8, holding off a furious Kirk Cousins rally. In fact, I see the Washington Redskins getting the winning touchdown on a Cousins pass ... only to have it called back. The 'Skins are the most penalized club in the league. (Yes, for once, it's not the Oakland Raiders.) I bet you didn't know that. That's why I write these things. A lot of people don't realize how much yellow flags have stunted Washington's growth this season. Meanwhile, the Browns' defense has been playing at a high level. Cleveland will blitz Cousins and/or RG3 in spots. When the Browns bring extra pressure, they limit opposing passers to a 52.8 passer rating -- the lowest figure in the league. #WASvsCLE
Expect the Houston Texans to be all sorts of P.O.'d after getting slapped around by the New England Patriots on national television. Can Andrew Luck capitalize on man coverage the way Tom Brady did? Can T.Y. Hilton give the Indianapolis Colts a shot in the arm in the return game? Maybe. But Indy's front seven is going to have a helluva time limiting Arian Foster and the entire Texans run package. They just don't have that kind of personnel, allowing 4.7 yards per carry. This is a huge game for Indianapolis in the wild-card and divisional races, but I think it's just a case of poor timing for the Colts, who catch an angry Texans side out to prove something. #notahater Coltsnation #INDvsHOU
The Miami Dolphins are still alive in this playoff deal -- barely -- but enough to spur a home win over the punch-less Jacksonville Jaguars. The Dolphins' front seven must rebound from a tough outing in San Francisco and stop Jags back Montell Owens. Jacksonville QB Chad Henne should have plenty of motivation going against his former team. Can he shake off back-to-back terrible outings (57.8 and 41.3 passer ratings) to push the ball upfield? Hope so. #JACvsMIA
Josh Freeman pulls it out in the end on a 12-yard scamper, ending the New Orleans Saints' faint playoff hopes while preserving those of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints can't stop the run. Through 13 games, they're giving up yards in chunks on the ground. How does 5.1 yards per carry sound? Crappy. Now, Drew Brees will keep New Orleans in the game because Tampa's secondary has played almost as bad as the Saints' run defense. The Bucs rank 32nd passing yards allowed. There are 32 clubs in the league, so that's not quality. Still, I trust Doug Martin and the ground attack to give the Tampa Bay defense some rest. #TBvsNO
Adrian Peterson racks up two more touchdowns for everyone's fantasy team, including mine ("Pizza the Hut"). That's cool for fantasy, not for reality, as the St. Louis Rams' front four should give Christian Ponder fits. The second-year quarterback desperately needs his big tight end, Kyle Rudolph, to show up for this game, or else the Rams' pass rush is going to bury him. Rudolph had a goose egg last week. For Sam Bradford and the Rams' offense, protecting the football is key -- something St. Louis has done well, with only 17 turnovers on the season. #MINvsSTL
The Arizona Cardinals score a touchdown on their opening possession, giving everyone who covers the NFL hope, then revert back to the band formerly known as the 2012 Arizona Cardinals. The Detroit Lions will get to John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Timm Rosenbach eight times. Look for a Cardinals defensive touchdown in this contest, as somebody's going to pick off a pass and begin a string of 12 laterals so that the offense doesn't have to come back on the field. Matthew Stafford? Decent start in fantasy, but expect the Lions to run the football more than usual, given Arizona's struggles in that area (among others). #DETvsAZ
Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks press on in Toronto, looking to improve to 9-5. I think they will. Gus Bradley's defense has capitalized on opponent mistakes most of the year, and even Dave Stieb knows Ryan Fitzpatrick can deal some wild pitches. "Fitzmagic" has been Fitztragic at times, with 17 turnovers and game-sealing picks versus Tennessee and New England. As much as I'd like to go upset here, it's tough to take Buffalo in ... er, uh ... Toronto against a defense performing as well as Seattle's. #SEAvsBUF
I picked against the San Diego Chargers last week and was about to do it again. Then I realized how much fun it would be to prognosticate that the Chargers win four in a row to close out the 2012 campaign and save Norval Turner's job in the process. San Diego's defense has acquitted itself better than the average observer might realize, but what a task it has this week in slowing Cam Newton, who has been on fire for the Carolina Panthers. Newton's passer rating over the last three games: 125.0, 121.2 and 110.1. At home, the Chargers are allowing 20.1 points per game while forcing two turnovers a contest. They're also winning the time of possession. Panthers- Chargers might be the game of Week 15. #CARvsSD
This is the best uni matchup in pro football. OK, that's not a prediction, but a statement. (NFL Network colleague Dave Dameshek claims the Kansas City Chiefs' whites at the Oakland Raiders' blacks is the top wardrobe faceoff, but that's a conversation for another day.) The Dallas Cowboys are missing multiple starters on defense, while having much of their depth playing hurt or just not playing worth a damn. Now Dez Bryant is hurt on the offensive side of the ball, to boot. Regardless of whether or not Dez ends up playing, Tony Romo just won't have enough firepower (of the 100 percent healthy sort) to topple the league's top-ranked defense. #PITvsDAL
Here's your weird score of the week. Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry takes a pick back to the house, and Tamba Hali hits Carson Palmer in the end zone -- his own end zone -- with ball in hand. Last year, Palmer and Kyle Boller combined to throw six picks when the Chiefs visited. This time, Palmer reacquaints himself with Denarius Moore, who's been quiet for several weeks, ultimately leading to a 37-point day for the Oakland Raiders. Jamaal Charles? 180 yards in a loss. #KCvsOAK
Last week, I predicted Patriots 27, Texans 24. That worked out. Or not. Expect Colin Kaepernick to spin Pats defenders a few times while performing better than Matt Schaub did on Monday night. Frank Gore will churn out 82 yards and a touchdown on the Patriots' front line, but in the end, Tom Brady's pinpoint passing will overwhelm the league's best secondary not under fire for Adderall use. I don't anticipate Brady's final numbers to be 350 and five touches, but I do see 227 yards, two touchdowns and a conservative game plan that will win a sexy interconference battle. #SFvsNE
The Tennessee Titans get back into the win column on the shoulders of Jake Locker, who leads them on a go-ahead drive late in the fourth quarter. It will be a game of mismatches -- basically, Locker trying to locate any Titans wideout not covered by Antonio Cromartie. This game's outcome, and the New York Jets' scant postseason hopes, hinge on one thing: Locker's accuracy, or lack thereof. Both of these clubs have trouble thwarting the run. New York probably will grind it out 43 times to prevent Mark Sanchez from single-handedly deep-sixing (and pick-sixing) Gang Green's postseason dreams. Meanwhile, Chris Johnson is so due for a home run. It's been over a month. #NYJvsTEN